The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

It’s a classic. Not a vaguely successful novel that is dubbed a “modern classic”. Published in 1962, this exhilarating and wonderful read has been translated from its original in Dutch, and has continued to delight generations internationally.

It is set in a fictional world that is bursting with knights galloping on horses, glorious castles and looming forests. It is a fabulous tale about chivalry, and is reminiscent of King Arthur and the Round Table. Tiuri, 16, has been training his entire life to become a knight, and only has one more night, which according to tradition must be spent in silent contemplation in a chapel, until he marches through the city and is officially knighted. There is a woeful cry for help, and Tiuri is drawn to the voice, and the moment he inquiries how he can help, he knows that he is risking his career forever. Yet the mysterious stranger asks him to deliver a secret letter, to the King of land he has never even visited before. Tiuri is honour bound to accept, but as he sets off on his monumental quest, peril follows closely behind in many forms, whether it’s vicious robbers, ruthless assassins or spies.


This was a fantastic novel; there was a steady flow of action to keep me interested and the world in which Tiuri is so familiar with, is charming. In an a
ge full of iPhones and emails, it was refreshing to encompass oneself in a place where there isn’t even any electricity, so that you can pretend even for a short period of time it doesn’t exist. As for the writing, I am unsure if this is merely as a result of the translation by Laura Watkinson, or if it is the intent of Dragt himself, but it seemed at times sentences came across as stilted and brief. The writing would have been improved if
Dragt had indulged herself in more elaborative detail, but it was adequate to read nonetheless. It is worth bearing in mind though, that it was written over 50 years ago, and therefore the taste of the audience that Dragt was presumably writing for, has most likely changed dramatically.

This is not the most challenging read, but will enthuse those readers looking for a light Summer holiday read, where one frolicking through mountains and fields and through dangers. One that note, the man sent to assassinate Tiuri, Slither, who is th email source of angst and menace, does not feature often, and when Tiuri’s path is crossed by thieves, he is “surprisingly” set free and let off lightly. This does add a slightly genteel edge because you feel as though the protagonist is often cushioned from danger. That aside though, this is  a delightful tale about a teenager whose monumental quest not only sees him through multiple kingdoms, but through the process of changing from an aspiring boy into an experienced young adult.

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